Who’s behind the war on statues?

This mob iconoclasm is being encouraged by America’s self-loathing elites.

Sean Collins
US correspondent

Share
Topics Politics USA

Night after night, in cities across the US, we witness marauding mobs toppling statues and celebrating as if such destruction constituted a great accomplishment.

To these statute demolishers, and their apologists in our politics and the media, these destructive acts are righteous victories over the forces of racism. But performative violence against marble figures has nothing to do with George Floyd, police brutality or discrimination.

At first, media reports stressed that vandals were concentrating on Confederate monuments. They presented the vandals as valiant avengers who were righting historical wrongs and ridding the US of symbols of its racist past. But it has quickly become clear that Confederate figures are not the only focus of these activists’ wrath.

In Portland, Oregon, protesters recently tore down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Back in 2017, Donald Trump predicted that the people protesting against Confederate monuments would set their sights on Washington and Jefferson next. His critics scoffed, called him paranoid, and blamed him for stirring up division. But he was right.

Toppling Washington and Jefferson is a justifiable act of anti-racism, say the apologists, because these Founding Fathers were slave-holders. But the US has never honoured Washington and Jefferson for owning black slaves. Without Washington, there is no US as a country. Jefferson, among his many achievements, penned the famous words of the Declaration of Independence, ‘all men are created equal’. In doing so, he paved the way for Abraham Lincoln to go to war to end slavery, and inspired Martin Luther King and countless others around the world to fight for equality. But that counts for nothing with these myopic vandals.

The arguments made in favour of destroying images of the Founding Fathers, which the media indulge with sympathy, are deeply flawed. They offer no balanced assessment of history. But they also have no limit. What comes down next – the Washington Monument? The Jefferson Memorial? Mount Rushmore? All would seem to be fair game by this logic.

Any claim that this statue-toppling is about anti-racism has already been demolished by the mob themselves. In San Francisco, demonstrators tore down a statue of Ulysses S Grant. That’s right, the general who defeated the Confederates in the Civil War, and the president who worked to secure the rights of former slaves in the South during Reconstruction. Even more insanely, protesters in Washington, DC have taken aim at Lincoln, and a statue known as the Emancipation Memorial.

It is as if these people are deeply proud of their historical illiteracy and want everyone to know it. The Emancipation Memorial was funded entirely by free slaves (an amazing story), and its unveiling in 1876 was commemorated by the famous former slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. But to these idiots, tearing down a statue of Lincoln funded by slaves is somehow a blow for racial equality.

Similarly, protesters in Madison, Wisconsin, pulled down a statue of Hans Christian Heg, an abolitionist immigrant who died fighting for the union. For good measure, they also toppled a statue commemorating women’s suffrage and beat up a 60-year-old Democratic state senator. It seems that, in the battle against white supremacy, attacking any white person will do.

After the attacks in Wisconsin and elsewhere, it is clear to see that these ‘activists’ across the country are irrational. Toppling statues simply offers them a nihilistic thrill. This is not a principled statement about racism in America.

Watching all this, many people are asking: why is no one in authority stopping them? There are laws against such vandalism. Why aren’t city mayors and state governors enforcing those laws? The short answer is: because the political and cultural elite sympathise with the vandals.

Indeed, some political leaders seem to be actively supporting the activists. In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney and district attorney Larry Krasner, after doing little to stop nights of looting and arson, pre-emptively removed a statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo. When rumors spread that they were about to do the same with a Christopher Columbus statue, people in the neighborhood formed an armed militia to protect it. Only then did Kenney and Krasner start evoking the law, and had the police disperse the Columbus defenders. Meanwhile, they looked the other way when a mob defaced a statue of Matthias Baldwin, a white abolitionist. The message from these politicos was clear: not only will we do nothing to prevent mobs from tearing down and damaging statues, but we will also crack down on anyone who tries to stop this from happening.

It is wrong to view the extremists as isolated hotheads, or radicals bent on challenging the establishment. No, their outlook is shared with those in the highest echelons of society. In sync with those taking to the streets, the head of the American Museum of Natural History in New York has asked the mayor to remove the equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt. The museum’s board members believe the monument is racist, and offensive to blacks and Native Americans – a view that is debatable, but now won’t be debated. The vandals are not just on the street, they can also be found in the boardrooms of our cultural institutions.

And where did our street activists get the idea that all of American history, including statues of its leaders and heroes, is ‘problematic’ and needs to be eradicated from our sight? Most likely, from our elite universities and most prominent media institutions. When protesters in Portland toppled George Washington this week, they spraypainted ‘1619’ on it. That was apt, because the toppling of statues embodies the outlook of the New York Times1619 Project – an initiative that claims that the US was founded for the purpose of entrenching slavery, and will never escape that legacy. The ideology of ‘1619’ is one that says burn it all down and start over.

There is a parallel between the fervour and indiscriminate destruction we’re seeing applied to inanimate objects in city squares and a different kind of force being used on people in social life. The rapid spread of ‘cancel culture’ – where individuals are accused of racism and shunned from public life – is destroying careers, livelihoods and reputations. At the same time that mobs are raging on our streets, another type of mob is, with the same ferocity and recklessness, tearing apart people’s lives.

The destruction of public monuments has got to stop. For a start, this does nothing to help black Americans who face discrimination. Instead, it hijacks that cause and turns it towards vindictive and intolerant ends.

Further, those who say ‘they’re just statues, not real people’ are misguided. Our public monuments do matter, because they embody our cultural values and historical memory. They are part of what we call our civilisation. Of course, once erected, not all should stand for eternity, and our views on who deserves to be honored are likely to change over time. But that decision to remove a monument has to follow a democratic process, so all get a say, not just a mob that thinks it knows best. To give vandals free rein is to attack democracy and civic tolerance.

There will always be those who want to destroy rather than build. What’s unusual about the situation we find ourselves in today is that that outlook is widespread among people in positions of power. Those who are supposed to be leading society are instead tearing it down from within. As much as a street mob is a problem, our self-loathing and destructive elites in politics and culture are a far bigger problem.

Sean Collins is a writer based in New York. Visit his blog, The American Situation.

Picture by: Getty.

Let’s cancel cancel culture

Free speech is under attack from all sides – from illiberal laws, from a stifling climate of conformity, and from a powerful, prevailing fear of being outed as a heretic online, in the workplace, or even among friends, for uttering a dissenting thought. This is why we at spiked are stepping up our fight for speech, expanding our output and remaking the case for this most foundational liberty. But to do that we need your help. spiked – unlike so many things these days – is free. We rely on our loyal readers to fund our journalism. So if you want to support us, please do consider becoming a regular donor. Even £5 per month can be a huge help. You can find out more and sign up here. Thank you! And keep speaking freely.

Donate now

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Comments

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

3rd August 2020 at 2:58 pm

BLM are Iconocl-ISISt!

Robert Sime

29th June 2020 at 5:05 pm

George Soros. Next question!

Geoff The thinker

28th June 2020 at 9:54 pm

I wonder how many people of the BLM sheep brigade have had their picture taken by the pyramids in Egypt smiling or giving it the big thumbs up.In this day and age that would be like doing a Siegel’s heil salute at Auschwitz.The hypocritical racist basxxxds . So let’s pull down one of the 7 wonders

silly billy

28th June 2020 at 2:03 pm

Celine had a theory about this. Basically, Europeans caused so much trouble during the 20th Century that something had to be done to dilute their sense of National Identity. Cultural dilution was seen to be a way to prevent further European wars, and has run in the background of post WW2 decisions, an invisible operating system. Capitalist Clubs like the Common Market were initiated, evolving into the EU, where freedom of movement achieved these aims, while keeping asset prices high (houses, rents) and wages low. The workers could be tithed, their taxes enabling EU grants to be given- so that, for example, Jaguar Land Rover could move operations to Estonia, that sort of thing. From the elite perspective, it has all been very successful. Assets through the roof, no major wars, apart from Kosovo. National Identity almost erased. Does a fair-skinned European wish to put his life on the line to protect a system where pregnant European BAME women are demanding additional resources? Does a male European of colour wish to die to protect Karen? The problem for the world is that Europe barely matters any longer. As resources dwindle, the arenas of the future will be determined by those who have maintained a sense of identity. You know who they are.

Gareth Evans

28th June 2020 at 11:27 am

This is what the death of the West looks like.

ANDREA COOKE

27th June 2020 at 8:49 pm

The statue of Louise XV was pulled down and the guillotine was erected in its place.
Iconoclastic vandalism always starts with the statues of the dead but will move on to the destruction of the living.

Gareth Roberts

27th June 2020 at 5:21 pm

Who’s behind it?
it seems most likely to be the leadership of the Democrats. They want to make Trump look impotent, they want to harm Trump’s supporters (by looting and destroying any number of small businesses) and then they will rig the next election.

KATHLEEN CARR

27th June 2020 at 6:10 pm

It would seem virtually everyone important supports them. 1968 ‘the summer’s here and the time is right, for fighting in the streets’ was meant to be the year of revolution but it didn’t happen as there was a war on , there was a cultural revolution going on in the country now most interested in ousting Trump and people voted in Nixon on law and order ticket. Nowadays those 1960’s hippies are 70 + and they and their families are in positions of power The march through the Institutions Is this year their moment?

KATHLEEN CARR

27th June 2020 at 8:03 pm

I think my answer is being moderated because I quoted a few lines of song ‘Street Fighting Man’ 1968 by the Rolling Stones. I presume Trump chose ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ as a rally tune also by them as a sort of jokey reply.

KATHLEEN CARR

27th June 2020 at 2:27 pm

One of the architects of BLM is an American/Russian called Noel Ignatiev ( 1940-2019) who was a Harvard Professor who created the phrase ‘white privilege’ . As he explained ‘White does not mean white. White in radical parlance means anyone of any race creed nationality color sex or sexual preference who embraces capitalism free markets limited government and American traditional culture and values’ So this person and his students are behind this organization whose ‘goal of destroying the white race is simply so desirable it boggles the mind trying to understand how anyone could possibly object to it’.The statues are simply the symbols of our culture-just the beginning and Universities are full of people like this professor sending out their willing armies.And we bend the knee to them.

Dan Gliebitz

28th June 2020 at 11:29 am

Churchill said. Never let a good crisis go to waste. It looks as though BLM are following his advice.
For me, I prefer “after the hate, comes the cause.

Mike Stallard

27th June 2020 at 10:14 am

The very great Muslim thinker, ibn Khaldun, explains how leadership of countries emerges and then, as the years pass, grows senile and dies. The people who take over are the “people without” – the Bedouin.
USA is growing senile now after 250 years of leadership by the Founding Fathers. The “people without” – the students, the minorities – black and also from all over the world – are taking over. The lily livered intellectuals are siding with them, as ever – “le traison des clercs”..
President Trump is the last gasp of the old America, over paid, over sexed and over here.

Izzy Bright

27th June 2020 at 9:47 am

In the UK our National Trust is now reviewing it’s statues. One of a Black man outside a stately Home has already been removed. A bit strange for an organisation set up to preserve Britain’s historic buildings and works of art….will the paintings be next?

silly billy

27th June 2020 at 8:32 am

They’re even going after Jesus now, saying that his depiction as a white European is a form of white supremacy. Thankfully, Trump is now threatening to withhold Federal funding from states whose Governors fail to deal with iconoclastic statue-toppling and similar seditious nonsense. Common sense from an Orangeman. Who’d ‘ve thought it?

T Zazoo

27th June 2020 at 1:31 am

And yet Marx’s headstone, which is itself a statue, sits unmolested.

In Negative

26th June 2020 at 9:59 pm

“This goes much further than hatred for the dominant global power from the disinherited and the exploited, those who fell on the wrong side of global order. That malignant desire is in the very heart of those who share (this order’s) benefits. An allergy to all definitive order, to all definitive power is happily universal, and the two towers of the World Trade Center embodied perfectly, in their very double-ness (literally twin-ness), this definitive order.

No need for a death wish or desire for self-destruction, not even for perverse effects. It is very logically, and inexorably, that the (literally: “rise to power of power”) exacerbates a will to destroy it. And power is complicit with its own destruction. When the two towers collapsed, one could feel that they answered the suicide of the kamikazes by their own suicide. It has been said: “God cannot declare war on Itself”. Well, It can. The West, in its God-like position (of divine power, and absolute moral legitimacy) becomes suicidal, and declares war on itself.

Numerous disaster movies are witness to this phantasm, which they obviously exorcise through images and submerge under special effects. But the universal attraction these movies exert, as pornography does, shows how (this phantasm’s) realization is always close at hand — the impulse to deny any system being all the stronger if such system is close to perfection or absolute supremacy.” – Jean Baudrillard.

In Negative

26th June 2020 at 10:07 pm

And more:

“To a system whose excess of power creates an unsolvable challenge, terrorists respond by a definitive act that is also unanswerable (in the text: which cannot be part of the exchange circuit). Terrorism is an act that reintroduces an irreducible singularity in a generalized exchange system. Any singularity (whether species, individual or culture), which has paid with its death for the setting up of a global circuit dominated by a single power, is avenged today by this terrorist situational transfer.

Terror against terror — there is no more ideology behind all that. We are now far from ideology and politics. No ideology, no cause, not even an Islamic cause, can account for the energy which feeds terror. It (energy) does not aim anymore to change the world, it aims (as any heresy in its time) to radicalize it through sacrifice, while the system aims to realize (the world) through force.”

In Negative

26th June 2020 at 10:16 pm

In fact, I’ll just link to the whole thing. It gets better every time you read it.
http://web.pdx.edu/~singlem/coursesite/baud9_11.html

Vivian Darkbloom

26th June 2020 at 11:14 pm

In Negative: thanks for that, I’d almost forgotten about Baudrillard. I’d nearly forgotten his near-contemporary Paul Virilio; during house arrest and the ongoing New Normal I remembered his concept of endo-colonisation. In essence, when a colonising power retreats to the home territory it does not forswear the principles of colonisation; it applies them to its own population. It’s a disturbing thought. I think he set this out in Total War but here is an extract from an interview with John Armitage:

First, endo-colonization happens when a political power turns against its own people. I have lived through this during the Second World War. Totalitarian societies colonize their own people. You cannot understand Nazi Germany without accounting for the fact that it had been deprived of colonies and embarked on a programme of colonization at home. So Germany’s colonization was a programme of colonizing the East (ostkoloni- zation), inclusive of Poland, Russia and France for that matter. But, by necessity, Germany’s colonization was also a logic of endo-colonization, that is, to force upon its own population the fate that the British – or the French – had forced upon the Aboriginals in Australia or the blacks in South Africa, or, in other words, brute force. And, in the case of the transplant revolution, what takes place is an endo-colonization of the human body by technology. The human body is eaten up, invaded and controlled by technology . . .
Source: http://www.kyoolee.net/From_Modernism_to_Hypermodernism_and_Beyond_-_Interview_with_Paul_Virilio.pdf

In Negative

27th June 2020 at 7:46 am

Thanks Viv. You should never Forget Baudrillard! (There is surely a good joke in here given he wrote Forget Foucault. Actually, I think he wrote a book called Forget Baudrllard too, so maybe you are right to forget him 😉 ). To my mind he was one of the two greatest thinkers of the post-modern era. He found a genuinely novel way of stepping outside of our ordinary system of thought and reinterpreted the world in a new language. I never really took to Verillio. That passage you refer to may have something to say about the US militarisation of the police, I’m not so sure it captures the reasons why significant numbers of people in powerful positions are championing this incoherent vandalism.

Baudrillard’s idea that the West is literally following its own suicidal instinct – its singular truth, its universal goodness, its hegemonic and absolute power having created an appetite for self-destruction within its own elites. That good and evil are intertwined and inseperable, that as you wind up the forces of good, reality and reason, you also wind up the intensity of their opposites. Everything that the good, the rational and the real excludes is looking for revenge, looking for a way to pay back this dominant system for its incontravertable and irreversible victory.

Treacle Tart

26th June 2020 at 6:46 pm

And it is exactly the same over here. The statue of Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) at Bannockburn was sprayed with the words “robert was a racist”, “racist king”, “bring down the statue” and “Black Lives Matter”.

silly billy

27th June 2020 at 8:23 am

To be fair, he didn’t like the English, which is a bit racist

Jonnie Henly

26th June 2020 at 6:31 pm

“It is wrong to view the extremists as isolated hotheads, or radicals bent on challenging the establishment.“

Indeed, because people who want to see the statues removed are not extremists, they represent a large body of public opinion, arguably the majority. And that is why the establishment struggles to resist them. Not because they inherently agree with them, if that were so then how come the statues are there in the first place?

No, public opinion forces the establishment to act. Instead of patronising attempts to blame universities or the media, maybe the author should accept that many rational thinking adults want those statues removed. Or does that not fit in with the narrative?

Tom Jones

26th June 2020 at 7:58 pm

” they represent a large body of public opinion, arguably the majority”

No, a (very) vocal (and very small) minority. The silent majority are not allowed to disagree with them

silly billy

27th June 2020 at 11:05 am

In fact, silence is violence against the oppressed. Apparently. A much more apt equation with violence and wanton destruction would be jail term. Presently, that seems more likely if you engage in open-air micturition. Despite mitigating factors, like public toilets being locked up.

David J

28th June 2020 at 9:35 am

Large majority? More a relatively small bunch of mob-crazed idiorati, letting off steam fresh out of Lockdown.
Aided and abetted by policing that wasn’t.
I’m surprised you don’t suggest book-burning next.

Jonathan Marshall

28th June 2020 at 10:53 am

Don’t give him ideas!

James Knight

26th June 2020 at 5:55 pm

Look how many of them are white. BLM/Antifa are a front for white supremacists. How else could you go into black neighbourhoods and burn things down? In Seattle they set up segregated areas. Then they target statues of Lincoln and an abolitionists. The Cambridge professor who says “white lives don’t matter” is another useful idiot of white supremacists, the whole idea is to get white people angry and make them think racially. I.e. raise their “racial consciousness” as white supremacists would see it.

Carl Bung

26th June 2020 at 4:52 pm

Why does anyone have to be behind it?

History is full of ordinary people enjoying a ruck with the authorities. History was made by criminals, the rebellious, law breakers, mobs.

In 1986 a statue of Harold Shipman is erected.

In 2006 a group of 12 medical students pull it down after a night out on the beers and the taking of illegal drugs.

Conservatives and the right today act like a bunch of old bores, pondering why on Earth any teenager would ever smash up a phone box in a country village after the pubs shut.

Study your history folks: the mobs, the lynchings, the fires, the civil unrest, the demonstrations, the violence, the crackdowns, the pranks, the bonfires, the beatings, the sedition.

Ever been to Lewes bonfire night? If yes, then you will understand why in 100 years time the ordinary people of Bristol will be having a firework party to make money from tourists celebrating the toppling of a statue back in 2020.

America as we know it only exists partly because the tedious twerps and wealthy windbags of England were given a good hiding or three.

Forged in blood and murder and violence, America can witness and survive plenty of statue topplings over the next 300 years, for sure.

For every American man beating his wife there’s a student having a laugh with a spray can.

For every British man using his phone to film himself engaging in the abuse of a child, there’s a woman who thinks BLM.

Welcome to your planet Earth where statues are absolutely guaranteed to be toppled by mobs or removed by elected officials and where fireworks and hot dogs will be consumed by future generations of earthlings encouraged to take part in the celebrations of the removal of statues.

Give a student a traffic cone, a blow up doll and 6 beers and watch on CCTV as he does something stupid. Everywhere in the world.

Freedom. It means toppling statues just as much as it means erecting them.

Gorge On the Gopher

26th June 2020 at 5:48 pm

I guess freedom also means the freedom to complain about statues being torn down by students.

The article isn’t even complaining. It’s just saying the students are pulling down the wrong statues. But if they weren’t pulling down statues and instead did their studies, the stupid morons would already know that.

James Knight

26th June 2020 at 5:57 pm

White supremacists are behind it.

KATHLEEN CARR

26th June 2020 at 6:00 pm

Like in panto?

C J

26th June 2020 at 4:24 pm

But the question of the article’s title has not really been answered by the article. Who IS responsible and is there anyone funding it? If so, who?

C J

26th June 2020 at 4:22 pm

“Respectfully remove the monument to four white male presidents at Mount Rushmore, as they presided over the conquest of Native people and repression of women and minorities”
Liberals already been canvassed on this one:
https://quillette.com/2020/06/22/toward-a-new-cultural-nationalism/

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.

Deplorables — a spiked film